Ancient Scroll’s Secret Room: Someone’s Gonna Die Tonight (PvP)

Today I would like to share some of my thoughts about killing in role-playing games. It’s a significant part of nearly every campaign and adventure of course… PCs are usually forced to resolve some problems with a blade (or well-placed fireball) because most villains show no mercy. Some sort of killing blow is likely in the menu of most adventures.

Spy vs. Spy (2005 video game)

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But this really isn’t the issue I want to discuss. Instead I want to focus on a more complex problem… the killing of one PC by another. In MMORPGs this is known as Player-vs-Player or PvP.

The first question becomes… Should PvP be allowed in Pen-and-Paper RPGs? In some MMORPGs you can change the server mode to turn PvP on or off. Should we offer the same option in tabletop RPGs?

My vote is “Yes” – it should be allowed. Or, to be more specific for your campaign, players should know that you, as GM, allow one PC to kill another. This “theoretical” permission doesn’t mean that it will happen, just that it is possible. Why? To keep the game more realistic.

How do you do this? And how do you keep all the PCs alive to the end of an adventure? I’ll tell you in a minute. But now I want to explain why I think running an adventure with PvP “on” is better.

I mentioned realism. Why? In most of the situations during campaigns there is something I call the FCoV or “Flying Circus of Variety.” It means that a party of PCs usually consists of a very diverse group of people (and elves, dwarfs, etc.). They have something in common – they are mostly outsiders who lead lives outside the “norm” of the rest of society. They choose (or were forced?) to travel around the known and unknown world, doing some dirty jobs like dungeon crawling and monster extermination.

The downside is that if all the PCs come from different backgrounds, they have different codes of honor, as well as racial, political and philosophical views. And sometimes these views conflict with one another. In this pot of diversity, conflicts are a given. Sooner or later one PC will rapidly disagree with another. They may even quarrel about the way they are resolving their “mission”. And sometimes when these disagreements reach critical levels, they should know they can settle their differences with force.

Sometimes more than the FCoV rule is in play. At times, one PC may have reason to hunt another. Revenge is always a good motivator. Perhaps one PC joins the party knowing this is the only way to get closer to their target – another PC.

English: A group of role playing gamers, enjoy...

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Even in less diverse groups, these “hard” moments can appear. For instance, mercenaries are usually quite violent by nature, so the possibility of a bloody discussion rises.

Generally, everywhere where people exist, there are emotions… views… habits… There is no reason to think that PCs are any different than normal people in this respect.

One more thing: does every quarrel have to end in a murder attempt? Nope. But imagine two drunk guys, each with a three foot blade, discussing their questionable heritage, descriptive terms about their mothers, and so on… Come on… It’s going to happen eventually! 🙂

Ok. So what now? Let’s say a disagreement between two PCs has achieved some level of… brutality. Now what? Should they kill each other? Yes… If you want to exclude one or both of them from an adventure. And No… if you want just to express a certain level of tension in the party.

How do you prevent PvP? I have several tricks. Some of them may have deep narrative background and some just may push an adventure further.

    • “The Old Enemy Trick” – Once or twice with different groups of players close to one PC killing another, I attacked the party with forces of an old enemy from a past encounter. They were stalking the party for a long time and used the inter-party squabble as an opportunity to attack. Every PC has at least one old enemy, right?
    • “Other People Fight Too” – In one session I added a special event, like another fight nearby, which distracted the PCs from their own squabble. Potentially another fight in the same inn or tavern or a brawl that moved into the street…
    • “Almost Dead” – Let the PCs exchange a few blows, but make one of them go unconscious. This will buy you some time to resolve the situation – but it may also prompt the unconscious PC to get revenge later…
    • “Advantage” -Sometimes one PC can be faster, better, or more skilled in fight – but he may hesitate before the final blow. You can explain in that brief moment how unreasonable it would be to kill another PC. It would weaken the party, bring the local authorities, cause more distrust among the PCs, etc. While one PC has the upper hand he might force the defeated PC to apologize, or promise to do something instead of killing him outright.
    • “House Divided” – What about the other party members? Will they stay and watch their friends kill each other? Maybe. But maybe they will jump in to break up the fight instead…

And what are your ideas when tension rises in the party? Do you allow PvP? Or maybe you just say PvP mode isn’t allowed in your games?

Feel free to share your experience in the comments!

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2 comments to Ancient Scroll’s Secret Room: Someone’s Gonna Die Tonight (PvP)

  • This is an excellent subject. When it comes to player on player violence if it is not personal I usually let it go although if I sense it is a misunderstanding then sometimes crisis management comes into play. When players are creating characters I remind them to keep things like codes and affiliations in mind especially if they know that another player is playing a character that might get their feathers ruffled. Sometimes I have seen a PC do something so evil or vile that several PC’s whacked them and the player who had committed the offense just accepted it. Really depends on the maturity of the players to handle the situations properly and not carry it into their next character if they meet their demise at the hands of another PC. Excellent article, keep them coming.

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